All Things Are Lights – Day 98 of 200

Nicolette’s skin crawled, hearing Hugues speak of her so.

She jumped back as she heard a sudden, sharp crack from within the room.

“How dare you strike a priest?” Hugues shrieked.

“I dare because I have more respect for the priesthood than you do,” said Amalric. “Never join my wife and your lust in your thoughts again.”

“I am no threat to your marriage,” said Hugues. “And I may even have found a way to destroy the man who is. Then you may regret the way you treated me.”

“If she had the strength,” Amalric said, “to stop you from raping her, she probably has the strength to keep silent under torture.”

“She does not,” said Hugues. “She used a spell to stop me. But there is no human being made who can stand up under what the skilled torturers I have hired can do. They have already begun. In a few hours I shall go back and find out everything.”

“And if she does not say what you want her to say?” Amalric asked.

“Impossible. We have almost a month to work on her.”

Nicolette felt sick. Amalric might be furious with Hugues for attempting to rape Diane, but he thoroughly approved of torturing her.

“When will you hold the sermo generalis?” Amalric asked.

“Customarily we keep heretics as long as a year to give them time to recant,” said Hugues. “Since we must soon go adventuring with our foolish King, I want this lot we rounded up recently done away with before we leave. I have chosen July twenty-second. An appropriate date, think you?”

“Yes, we should be sailing soon after that,” Amalric said, “but what is special about that date?”

“That day, in the Year of Our Lord twelve hundred and nine, God delivered this city of Beziers into the hands of our crusaders,” said Hugues with glee. “Our own father was among the victors.”

When twenty thousand men, women, and children were murdered in one night, thought Nicolette. God protect us from men like this.

“By mid-July the King and his army should have arrived at Aigues-Mortes.” Amalric suddenly grew enthusiastic. “We can invite him to the last great burning before the crusade embarks. How will his delicate stomach stand the sight of rows of sizzling heretics?”

Hugues said, “Think how it would embarrass him if Diane de Combret, at the stake, named Roland de Vency, a royal enqueteur, as her protector.”

If only I were a man, thought Nicolette, I would cut both their heads off.

“Remember,” Amalric said, “a crusader receives amnesty for past crimes when he takes the cross. I have word that de Vency took the cross over a year ago in Paris.”

Thank God, thought Nicolette.

“To be sure,” said Hugues, “but the revelation of this crime would end the favor the King could show him.”

“How it galls me,” she heard Amalric saying just as she also heard footsteps coming up from the first floor of the citadel. Quickly she left and hurried to the steps leading up to the bedroom. Then she paused in the circular stairwell to listen again.

There was a knock. Guy d’Etampes identified himself.

Nicolette stayed on the landing to hear what he had to say.

“The King and his army have stopped to besiege the castle of La Roche-Glun,” said Sire Guy. “The King accuses the Sire Othon de la Roche of robbing pilgrims and merchants.”

“Even in his own castle a baron is not safe from this meddling King,” Amalric grumbled, standing in the doorway of his chamber.

Nicolette withdrew to their bedroom. The girls were asleep on a bed on one side of the room, Simon in his cradle. Nicolette undressed to her shift and climbed into the big bed she shared with Amalric, drawing shut the curtains that created a private space.

Goddess, how can I hope to fall asleep before he comes to bed? I will feign sleep.

That poor woman.

Guilt seared Nicolette’s heart like a red-hot iron. She turned from one side to the other in the bed, trying to get comfortable. Here I am in a soft bed, and she is being broken by torturers. Could it be my fault? What if she left Paris because I found her at Roland’s?

Tangled in the sheets, she clenched her fists. Fear gripped her. She broke out in a cold sweat.

Roland is in terrible danger. By the time she goes to the stake she will be mad. She will say anything they want her to.

I must warn him. How? Where are they? La Roche-Glun, north of Valence. Soon they will be near our lands at Lumel. Could I tell Amalric I want to take the children to see my sisters before we leave for the East? Leave Simon there and send the others to Chateau Gobignon. God only knows what the Turks will do to us in Outremer.

What is the matter with me? How can I think of myself now, while that poor woman is…

The horror that she imagined made her want to scream.

Only one thing I can do. Warn Roland. I must warn him.

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